December 12, 1999
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been engrossed in The Lost Gospel—The Book of Q and Christian Origins by Burton L. Mack. Even though I’ve long known that the authors of the gospels borrowed heavily from other mythologies and traditions, I’ve always wondered what those first influences were.
How could I resist a title like The Lost Gospel? I felt a bit like Indiana Jones. In fact, history is a form of archeology, and the rewards to the digger as precious as artifacts.
Mack traces these origins to a pre-Christian Galilean community that respected Jesus as a Cynic sage/teacher. The community’s compilation of his sayings makes up the Q gospel—from Quelle, the German word for source. No independent record exists, but some sayings have been distilled from the highly interpretive gospel narratives.
Mack shows how research since the mid-19th century helped uncover the real Jesus. He follows the evolution of Q through three stages and shows how the gospel writers used it. Through creative editing, embellishment and much fabrication, they turned Jesus the teacher into Christ the messiah, as predicted by the Hebrew Bible.
It was in Syria and Turkey, Mack says, that the story of Jesus and his death became blended with mystery cults, miracle stories and other lore. In the end, the compelling, inspirational image of the Son of God overshadowed the ethical pronouncements of the teacher, and so the Jesus community gave way to the Christ cult. The rest is bloody history.
This highly abbreviated synosis of Mack’s book is meant to show that those who are inspired by a charismatic death can turn a person into something more than human. We will never know everything about how the Christ myth evolved, but we can estimate what that process might be like from the myth-making that attends the annual observance of Marc Lépine’s murder/suicide rampage at Montreal’s l’école Polytéchnique.
Though it might seem strange, if not perverse, to discuss Lépine in the same breath as Jesus, the martyrology that gave rise to the Christ cult, can to some degree be seen here.
The murder of 14 female engineering students was a unique violent event, but its galvanizing effect on feminist men and women was compelling. Instantly, 14 women were turned into martyrs to “violence against women” and the perpetrator of that violence was made emblematic of all men.
The shift of focus from Lépine as a deranged loner to archetype of male violence occurred quickly. Little or nothing is now said of him; in fact he is actively ignored. All focus is on the students. Thus, the effect of the murders is severed from the cause, thus making understanding impossible.
For these would-be mythographers, the deaths of the students must not only be mourned but be seen as part of a great crusade. Problem is, no such connection is warranted. Lépine’s rampage was little different from other mass murder/suicides committed by a deranged person armed with a weapon, persecution complex and a hit list. But then, like the gospel writers, the makers of the Lépine martyrology aren’t about to let mundane facts get in the way of spinning a powerful but skewed myth.
Like the gospel writers, feminist mythographers have been highly successful. Every Dec. 6, politicians and the media dutifully pay homage to the official “vylinsiginstwimmin” version of events. It reminds me of the way Soviet politicians and broadcasters robotically parrot anti-capitalist slogans. The intent is not to inform, but to discharge an obligation and inculcate a belief.
For example, CBC Newsworld devoted an incredible 17 hours of coverage to the 10th anniversary of the murders. Beyond being a simple commemoration, the occasion had no news value, certainly not enough to warrant such repertorial overkill. Nevertheless, valuable airtime was wasted on predictable stories and predictable interviews with people who intoned all the right verities.
But if we look at the media as a church and the reporting (in general) as a sermon to the multitude, it makes sense. The need to impose universal belief, as well as universal assignment of blame, can also be seen in the quasi-religious symbol of the white ribbon. Local activist Stephen Douglas told the Courier that 97 percent of the white ribbon campaign occurs east of Sault Ste. Marie, yet all men need to acknowledge their collective responsibility for violence and express their solidarity with their victims—women.
Such mawkish blather serves only to distort what really happened. It makes no more sense to judge all men by Lépine’s example than to judge all people by Jesus’s. After all, in Q Segment 10, Jesus said: “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged.”
Mack hopes that Christians will become enlightened enough to accept the gospels as myth so that informed discussions about their meaning with non-Christians can take place. Because the gospels are not factual, defence of gospel absolutism must by definition be irrational and defensive. Over the last 2,000 years such reaction has often taken the form of torture and mass murder to fight those who would try to argue fact over fiction.
Those who propagate the Lépine martyrology don’t commit physical violence, but they’re no less intolerant of criticism, as shown by our “human rights” inquisitions and general societal bias against maleness. Perhaps one day our politicians and media will also become enlightened, and we will be able to discuss Lépine and his actions intelligently.